Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

The September 11 attack on New York City will have far-reaching consequences for all of us. Both businesses and residents have been affected by the disaster, some directly, some indirectly but no less profoundly. A great deal of attention has, quite properly, been focused on the impact of the attack on businesses and our economy in general, but the needs of New York residents are of equal importance. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, we must develop a coordinated plan to respond to both the short-term and the long-term needs of the city. We need a plan of recovery for all. Specifically:

1. We must respond to the immediate needs of businesses directly affected by the disaster, so that as many as possible are able to remain in New York City. These needs may include identifying temporary and then permanent office space and providing possible assistance with short-term cash flow problems.

2. We must establish a central office to coordinate the needs of residents directly affected by the attack and of all New Yorkers. Those who live near the World Trade Center need information and assistance with health concerns, the security of their buildings, and the availability of services and utilities. Other New Yorkers need information and help dealing with changes in services, such as transportation, and with the economic impact of the attack.

3. We need to develop a long-term plan to revitalize lower Manhattan and to rebuild commercial office space and residential housing in lower Manhattan and throughout all five boroughs of the city.

4. While the attack has had a direct effect on the businesses located in the World Trade Center, it will have perhaps an even more profound effect on entire industries, including the airlines, hotels and restaurants, and the entertainment business. Retail and manufacturing firms would also be affected by a decline in consumer confidence. We need to develop a coordinated plan to address both the short and long-term needs of our economy. This plan should address not only those industries most affected by the attack, but also those that can contribute to the growth of the city's economy.

The public advocate should play a leadership role in all of these efforts. It is the role of the public advocate to insure that the government is meeting the needs of all New Yorkers. The new public advocate should immediately implement a program to receive requests and complaints from New Yorkers about what services they need and to insure that government responds effectively. The public advocate should also take the lead in listening to the long-term concerns of New Yorkers and working with the mayor and the City Council to plan for the future.

In the aftermath of September 11, we will also need to create a process that will effectively enhance safety and security, while preserving the rights of innocent people, which is what makes our society worth defending. I have spoken throughout my campaign for public advocate about my plans to create independent neighborhood councils all over the city. These councils would meet periodically to discuss issues, with the goal of bringing people together. I would encourage those councils to play a lead role in opening the dialogue about how to balance safety concerns and individual rights. I would attract national experts to help in this process, and I would hold town hall meetings, listen to the concerns of New Yorkers throughout the city and work with the mayor, the City Council and local communities to address those concerns wisely and effectively.

Over the past weeks, New Yorkers have worked together with courage, determination and compassion. We must bring that same spirit both to the effort to rebuild and to the other problems that faced our city before September 11 and that still face us today: reducing racial tensions, improving police-community relations, assuring an adequate education for all children, and expanding affordable housing. If we can do that, we can and will have not only recovery, but a better New York for all of us.

Norman Siegel is the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and currently a candidate for public advocate. He will face Betsy Gotbaum in a runoff election for the Democratic nomination on Oct. 11